Murphy's Law: Laser Inaccuracy


May 4, 2009: Last year, a U.S. Navy F-18F, while using a military training area in Florida to practice dropping a laser guided 500 pound bomb. Normally, these bombs land within a few feet of where they are aimed. But in this case, the pilot missed the target by over three kilometers, and the bomb landed about 1,500 meters outside the bombing range. The bomb went off in an uninhabited area, but dealing with the brush fire it started, that burned 257 acres (about 100 hectares), cost $342,946.

This was an alarming failure of a laser guided bomb, and the navy promptly launched an investigation. It was eventually discovered that the cause of the accident was the pilot releasing bomb before it was set, electronically, in the proper mode. The bomb's fuze was also improperly set. The two man crew of the F-18F, and some folks on the ground,  had, in short, screwed up. The crew also failed to go through the bombing checklist before releasing the bomb. Finally, the two pilots had not slept much the night before.

The report recommended convening a review board to determine if the two pilots should continue to be naval aviators. The squadron was ordered to tighten up on supervision of the ground crew (who do things like set fuzes), and how much sleep pilots get the night before training flights. Nothing was mentioned about the squadron commander, but his career prospects were not improved because of this incident.

The Pinecastle Impact Range, a 5,800 acre (2,300 hectare) training area, is the only one on the east coast where navy aircraft can drop live bombs. About 20,000 bombs a year are dropped onto Pinecastle, only 1-2 percent of them are live (the rest are dummies, and don't explode).


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